Amazon textbook rentals: fine-print bans taking books over state lines

If you thought Google deleting your ebooks when you cross a border is unreasonable, check this out: Amazon's textbook rental service comes with fine-print that allows the company to bill your credit card for the full amount if they think you've crossed a state line with it. It's not clear exactly what's going on here, but all signs point to this being part of Amazon's strategy for avoiding having to pay state sales-tax.

The “textbooks with borders” condition applies only to books rented through Warehouse Deals and not any other third-party sellers, according to When asked why the condition was put into effect, multiple customer service representatives said they did not know. Amazon public relations representatives did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

At first glance, the restriction doesn’t seem to make much sense. But to those who have been following Amazon’s aggressive efforts to avoid charging state and local sales tax, the reasoning behind it becomes clearer. Kenneth C. (Casey) Green, founding director of the Campus Computing Project, theorizes that the restriction is a kind of “Mann Act” strategy (a law that made it illegal to transport women across state lines for "immoral" purposes) intended to minimize the company’s nexus -- or physical presence -- in states where the company is fighting the efforts of state and local authorities to collect sales tax.

“Presumably the concern is that if Amazon owns rented textbooks that cross state lines, state authorities could argue that Amazon has an official business presence in the state -- a business presence that would require Amazon to collect and to pay state sales taxes,” Green said in an e-mail.

Inside Higher Ed

Books With Borders [Lauren Ingeno/Chronicle of Higher Education] (Thanks, Patrick!)

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